This is a bit of a rehash of something I talked about in my Protagonize guest post, but I figured it warranted its own time here.
DRM stands for Digital Rights Management. It ostensibly protects a creator’s work from the dreaded scourge of internet piracy. Personally, I’m not a fan. Whether it’s copy protection of digital music files or an always on internet connection for games, it just doesn’t make sense. It’s especially baffling when applied to ebooks.
DRM of any sort only serves to do two things: alienate your customer base and encourage pirates to liberate the product that’s being locked down. There’s a reason digital piracy is socially accepted to the extent it is. For virtually everything else we buy, once we’ve forked over the cash it’s ours to do with as we please. If you buy a lawnmower you can lend it to your neighbor or sell it to somebody else. If you buy a physical paper book you can give it away, lend it to a friend, or sell it to a used book store which can then sell it again.
And yet, for some reason, digital content is different. And it goes far beyond simply preventing someone from being able to reproduce a music file or ebook. I can see their argument there (even if I disagree with it). If someone can copy a file they can give one away and keep one for themselves, potentially eliminating a future sale. Again, I can understand where content producers are coming from, but I don’t necessarily agree. You see, with DRM the original file isn’t even really yours. With DRM, you don’t purchase anything. You rent it.
I’m going to pick on Amazon here, just because they’re the easiest example. If Amazon was up front with that it would be something else. But they don’t say “rent an ebook which we can revoke at will”, they say “buy an ebook”. So imagine a user’s shock when content they thought they purchased is suddenly revoked. This has happened several times now. Back in 2009, Amazon removed legitimately purchased copies of George Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm from user’s Kindles. The irony there is something else, isn’t it? The second case involved a Norwegian woman, Linn Nygaard, who was unceremoniously locked out of all her kindle books for no apparent reason.
Faced with the possibility of having access to legally purchased content removed at any moment, who wouldn’t turn to piracy? If not pirating the actual content, users might at least use the same tools to strip the DRM from existing purchases in order to keep them.
Thankfully, at least where ebooks are concerned, there are options. Retailers such as Smashwords offer DRM free copies for sale, and even Amazon has the option to sell ebooks without it. I’ve made sure my own book, Clockwork & Old Gods, is sold DRM free.
Going DRM Free
Going DRM free can be a great thing for self published authors. For one thing it engenders good will with your readers – you’re allowing them to actually but that book, not simply rent it. For another thing it helps you advertise.
In my guest post on Protagonize I talked about the free marketing method, so named because with this method you give things away for free. Book giveaways, temporarily pricing your book for free, giving away free copies in exchange for reviews, etc. Some people are actually making this their entire business plan. People like Ksenia Anske, who has a donation button on her webpage, but otherwise is releasing her work for absolutely nothing.
People can spread her book around at will, and in doing so they raise awareness of her work. The more people who see it the more will come to her website and add a donation. This is similar to how releasing DRM free ebooks works, even if you’re charging for them. If a reader buys your book and gives copies to all their friends, and those friends like your work, they are more likely to either A) buy a copy of their own or B) buy one of your later works. Some models partially use Ksenia’s method by having the first book in a series free, and charging for the rest.
However you do it, going DRM free helps spread your work into the world. Having the most piracy proof ebook possible is all well and good, but if nobody knows it’s there who’s going to buy it? For me the tradeoff of allowing free ebooks to roam in the wild is more than worth the advertising it provides.